Saving money has gone from being a luxury to a necessity. Consumers in today's economic climate are not only forced to cut back on their expenses due to unemployment and a shaky economy, but even those who still maintain disposable income want to find a way to stretch their money.

Finding ways to save money is one of today's hottest trends. Even reality television is getting into the fray with TLC's new show, "Extreme Couponing," which tracks consumers who save hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars on their grocery bills by using coupons.

Saving on the Web

Shopping Online

The trend seemingly started online with the emergence of group discount sites, websites that offer members deals and deep discounts on everything from groceries and clothing to travel and personal services, like massages, at local businesses and retail outlets.

But, there's a catch. In some cases, for a deal to go through, a minimum number of consumers must sign up for it. If the minimum isn't met, the deal's off. In addition, deals don't last forever, with some expiring after only a day, and some sites only offer a deal a day. (Read the Terms and Conditions of group discount sites carefully, so you know what to expect.)

Who benefits?

Discount sites benefit both consumers and business owners, especially in such a sluggish economy. More consumers are likely to purchase when they are offered deals, resulting in higher sales for retailers.

Group discount sites are a hot current trend for small business owners who want to find an affordable, creative way to drive traffic to their business. Advertising on a group discount site - like -isn't free for businesses, but it does expose consumers to businesses they might not otherwise find or even try.

Social media's role

Another hot trend with group discount sites, and the businesses that use them to push products, is advertising deals through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. In addition to daily email updates, which many group discount sites send out, social media reaches consumers immediately.

A passing fad?

Mall Shopping

But, what about the future of group discount sites? Well, if the stats are any indication, group discount sites are not only one of today's hottest trends, they're here for the long haul. Tech Crunch estimates that revenues from group discount sites are slated to reach $2.7 billion in 2011, up a whopping 138 percent from last year.

Some experts predict that changes are in the cards for group discount sites. In fact, with group discount sites so lucrative for the site owners, more entrepreneurs are likely going to throw their hat into the ring, starting group discount sites of their own. With more group discount sites, business owners are going to have more choice of where to advertise, which will likely drive down the costs of advertising. Consumers will continue to save money; advertisers will save more money; and group discount sites will take a hit in how much commission they earn.

Group discount sites, by all accounts, appear here to stay. How they will evolve will play out over time, but for now, consumers can continue to save money in exchange for sharing their email address, so they can receive daily deals directly into their inbox.

To see group discount sites in action, visit Groupon, LivingSocial, BuyWithMe, or Dealster.